(director: Stephen Frears; screenwriters: Lee Hall/from the book by Shrabani Basu; cinematographer: Danny Cohen; editor: Melanie Oliver.; music: Thomas Newman; cast: Judi Dench (Queen Victoria), Ali Fazal (Abdul Karim), Tim-Pigott Smith (Sir Henry Ponsonby), Eddie Izzard (Berie, Prince of Wales), Olivia Williams (Lady Churchill), Adeel Akhtar(Mohammed), Michael Gambon(Lord Saisbury), Paul Higgins (Dr.Reid), Simon Callow (Puccini), Fenella Woolgar (MissPhipps), Julian Wadham (Alick Yorke), Deano Bugatti ( Queen Victoria’s Waiter ); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward; Focus Features; 2017)

Though this is a slight film Dench, as always, gives a good performance.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A little known historical episode is playfully made into a gentle biographical film by British filmmaker Stephen Frears (“Lay The Favorite”/”The Queen”). It’s based on a comical tongue-in-cheek script on real events by Lee Hall, who bases it on the non-fiction book by Shrabani Basu. It tells of the surprising friendship of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) with an Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, Bollywood star), as it tries to reach out for an example of racial inclusion in the Brit empire during its colonial period by showing an attempt at humanizing relations in the Queen’s drawing room. The aging and lonely Queen Victoria in 1887 is in her last years on the throne of England. Abdul Karim is the lowly 24-year-old Indian Muslim clerk who’s sent from Agra to England to present the Queen with a ceremonial coin. He goes against protocol by looking the Queen directly in the eye and kissing her foot at her court when introduced to her. This scandalizes the stuffy Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim-Pigott Smith), the head of the royal household, and also her whiny son and heir, Bertie (Eddie Izzard), who will become Edward VII. The queen reacts by saying Abdul is her “munshi” (beloved teacher). Because of fears raised by the anti-colonist movement and the fatwa threat by the leader of India’s Muslims, the Queen has never visited India even if the ruler of that country. She thereby uses Abdul to fill her in on what is happening there. He talks mostly about light things such as the Taj Mahal. In any case, these talks help the Queen see the changing world though new eyes. While her white staff resents that the brown-skinned Abdul receives more attention from the queen than they do, she rejects their racist views and continues to honor him with intimate mother-son like meetings. The film’s main problem is that it unwittingly demeans Abdul by making him a condescending figure and this only aggravates things further rather than alleviates racial tensions, as it intended. Though this is a slight film Dench, as always, gives a good performance.

Victoria & Abdul Poster

REVIEWED ON 10/20/2017 GRADE: C+